Museum of Tolerance to Create Exhibit on Pope John Paul II

On April 29, two days before Pope John Paul II was beatified in Rome, the Simon Wiesenthal Center announced plans to establish a new permanent exhibit at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles dedicated to the late pontiff.

A native of Poland, during his papacy John Paul worked to improve relations between the Catholic Church and world Jewry. He also conveyed the importance of preserving the memory of the Holocaust by making a visit to Auschwitz in 1979 and a visit to Yad Vashem in 2000. He was known to have met with many survivors of the Holocaust.

The John Paul exhibit is currently housed in a temporary space. It is set to be installed in its permanent location — the main exhibition space at the Museum of Tolerance, directly opposite the display containing the original office of Simon Wiesenthal, the center’s namesake — later this month.

Pope John Paul II, proponent of Jewish-Catholic relations, is beatified

Pope John Paul II, who made fostering Catholic-Jewish relations and remembering the Holocaust cornerstones of his papacy, was beatified at the Vatican.

John Paul’s successor, Pope Benedict XVI, officiated at Sunday’s ceremony—the last step before canonization, or sainthood—before an estimated 1 million faithful and a live broadcast audience of millions more around the world.

The ceremony took place just hours before Yom Hashoah, when Jews around the world remember the Holocaust in prayer and ceremonies.

The Polish-born John Paul, who died in April 2005, served as pontiff for more than 26 years.

Born in 1920, John Paul had Jewish friends growing up and witnessed destruction during the Holocaust. Throughout his papacy, he reached out to Jews and met frequently with Jewish representatives, including Holocaust survivors, and repeatedly condemned anti-Semitism.

In 1986 he became the first pope to visit a synagogue when he visited Rome’s main synagogue, where he embraced the Rome chief rabbi and referred to Jews as Christianity’s “elder brothers in faith.”

During his reign, Israel and the Vatican established formal relations, and he made a pilgrimage to Israel in 2000, during which he prayed at the Western Wall.

“On this day of his beatification, it is only appropriate that we celebrate this leader who made a revolutionary impact in Catholic-Jewish relations within our lifetime, and that we of all faiths continue to learn from him,” Rabbi Jack Bemporad, director of the Center for Interreligious Understanding in New Jersey and the John Paul II Center for
Interreligious Dialogue in Rome, wrote in the Huffington Post.

At John Paul’s funeral, crowds called for him to be made a saint immediately. But Pope Benedict has come under criticism from some quarters for fast-tracking the sainthood process, waiving the usual five-year waiting period before it can begin.

Some critics also have called into question John Paul’s handling of the widespread sex abuse scandal involving priests and children that erupted during his reign.

Leaders: Pope likely to postpone Pius sainthood

After a meeting with the pope, Jewish leaders said the beatification of Nazi-era Pope Pius XII likely would be postponed.

Pope Benedict’s move to make the controversial Pius XII a saint has outraged many Jews, who blame the late pope for staying silent in the face of Nazi atrocities and not doing more to help save Jews.

After their Oct. 30 meeting with the pontiff, Jewish officials said they were left with the impression that the beatification of Pius would be postponed until the Vatican opened up its World War II-era archives.

But the pope did not say as much explicitly.

Richard Prasquier, who heads the French Jewish umbrella group CRIF, said he left with that impression from sideline discussions with Benedict’s entourage on Thursday, plus private conversations with the pope.

“It wasn’t said in an absolutely clear way. It was an impression that we had,” Prasquier said. He said the pope is interested in maintaining a good relationship with world Jewry.

“The pope has no desire to be in a position of conflict,” Prasquier said. “I think that the pope realized the beautification process created a conflict with the Jewish community. So I have a hard time imagining he’d start it up again in 15 days.”

The leader of the Jewish delegation, Rabbi David Rosen, the director of the American Jewish Committee’s Department of Interreligious Affairs, was quoted in news reports as saying Benedict said in a conversation that he was “seriously considering” halting the sainthood process while Nazi-era archives on Pius remained closed.

Prasquier could not confirm that the Pope made such a statement.

Prasquier said most of the Vatican visit was devoted to explaining why technical difficulties stalled the opening of the 1939 to 1958 archives, which has been requested by Jewish officials.

“I told him I hoped the archives would help clarify things,” Prasquier said. “If the archives show exemplary things about his personality, then we’ll change our opinion,” Prasquier said of Pius.

Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman welcomed news that the Vatican’s World War II archive may be opened.

“This is an important step toward seeking the historical truth about the pontificate of Pope Pius XII and his activities regarding the Jews during World War II. We stand ready to assist in this important project for both of our faiths,” Foxman said in a statement.